A Murmur

I heard that there are starlings at Pleydell Court.

I went to look, though I’m not very good on birds.

I can tell the difference between

A parrot and a pigeon

A sparrow and a stork

And, indeed, between a handsaw and a hawk

But a starling and a…fieldfare? A starling and a thrush?

Even so, I went to have a look

But saw no starlings roosting at Pleydell Court.


Only the next day I saw the murmuration.

A murmuration: such a strange, fantastical word;

‘A doubtful word for a flock of starlings’

My dictionary has it.

It sounds as if it’s the name for a sacrament-

Baptism, Confirmation, Murmuration

Prayers for the murmuration of souls

(The Litany:

A murmuration of starlings

A murder of crows

A muster of peacocks).

A murmuration exaltation it is called.

I have seen it now and now

I can tell the difference between a murmuration and a flock.


I saw the murmuration

On Saturday, late-autumn, early- afternoon twilight

The final evening before Advent

And in the two lights, two darknesses

The shadow of them, the shadow of the flock

Flickering, swooping, swinging across and back

From, I suppose, Pleydell Court, across the Sandgate Road

Scores of them changing direction as one

At a moment’s notice; diving, shape-shifting;

A swirling

So rapid, so fast, so flickery that you cannot focus

Cannot really see a starling

At first glance they might be bees

Although even I can tell the difference between

A starling and a bee.


I watched and admired in awe and then I came home

And read more about it on Wikipedia

And watched a murmuration on YouTube

(The way you do)

It says that the video I watched ‘went viral’

Which is appropriate, the murmuration itself

Being viral.


It is not fully known how starlings are able

To move as an intelligent crowd in this way

Thousands of them changing direction simultaneously

It is called scale-free correlation

And it provides each starling

With an effective perception range

Much larger than the direct

Interindividual interaction range

Thus enhancing global response to perturbation.


Let’s have that again:

The enhanced global response to perturbation.

Wow! There’s a poem for you!

The language of particle physics explaining beauty!

Amazing.

Though not as amazing as the murmuration itself

Just as these words of mine are not nearly as amazing

And which is best? Which tells you more?

The folk-poetry, hidden meaning of ‘murmuration’

Or the scientific, hidden meaning of ‘perturbation’?

Murmuration; perturbation

The point is we will never have a word

That properly describes a bird.


Response to perturbation:

They move the way they do to evade marauders

And murders

Although not, I think, murders of crows.

The starnel crowd that dims the muddy light

Wrote John Clare, who noticed a thing or two

Though not, it seems, the proper name of starlings.


Well, there are plenty of words and languages I don’t know

Though I’ve seen them on Wikipedia and in books

But there’s one thing I know

Or think I know

And it’s told in words of one syllable

And it’s lyrical not particle-physic-al

And it goes

A crow in a crowd is a rook

A rook on its own is a crow.